Donovan, William Joseph “Wild Bill”.

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Donovan, William Joseph “Wild Bill”, born 01-01-1883 in Buffalo, New York,  to Anna Letitia “Tish” Donovan (born Lennon) and Timothy P. Donovan, both American-born children of Irish immigrants. The Lennons were from Ulster, the Donovans from County Cork. Donovan’s grandfather Timothy O’Donovan (Sr.) was from the town of Skibbereen; raised by an uncle who was a parish priest, he married Donovan’s grandmother Mary Mahoney, who belonged to a propertied family of substantial means that disapproved of him. They first moved to Canada and then to Buffalo, New York, where they dropped the “O” from their name. Donovan’s father, born in 1858, worked as the superintendent of a Buffalo railroad yard, then as secretary for Holy Cross Cemetery, and also would attempt to engage in a political career, but with little success.,

Donovan was born on New Year’s Day in 1883. (Named William, he chose his middle name, Joseph, at the time of his confirmation.) He had two younger brothers and two younger sisters who survived into adulthood and several additional younger siblings who died in infancy or childhood. “From Anna’s side of the family came style and etiquette and the dreams of poets,” Donovan attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, a Catholic institution at which he played football, acted in plays, and won an award for oratory. He went on to Niagara University, a Catholic university and seminary where he undertook a pre-law major. Considering the priesthood, he ultimately decided “he wasn’t good enough to be a priest,” although he did win another oratorical contest, this time with a speech warning of corrupt, anti-Christian forces that threatened the United States.

With the expectation of studying law, Donovan eventually transferred to Columbia University, where he looked beyond “Catholic dogma” and attended Protestant and Jewish worship services to decide whether he wanted to change religions. He joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, rowed on varsity crew, again won a prize for oratory, was a campus football hero, and was voted the “most modest” and one of the “handsomest” members of the graduating class of 1905.

During World War I, Donovan organized and    led a battalion of the United States Army, designated the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division “Rainbow” , the federalized designation of the famed 69th New York Volunteers, the “Fighting 69th  

Donovan was a true war hero, awarded the Medal of Honor. Here, as commander of the 1st Battalion, 69th New York Volunteers, in World War I, Major Donovan receives the Legion of Honor from a French General.

During the interwar years, Donovan traveled extensively in Europe and met with foreign leaders including Benito Mussolini of Italy. Donovan openly believed during this time that a second major European war was inevitable. His foreign experience and realism earned him the attention and friendship of Columbia classmate President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

   . Roosevelt gave him a number of increasingly important assignments. In 1940 and 1941, Donovan traveled as an informal emissary to Britain, where he was urged by William “Frankie Knox and Roosevelt to gauge Britain’s ability to withstand Adolf Hitler’s (did you know) aggression. During these trips, Donovan met with key officials in the British war effort, including Sir Winston Churchill. Donovan was appointed the Chief of the Office of Coordination of Information (COI), one of the first comprehensive efforts of the U.S. government to gather military information in preparation for actual maneuvers. Given the initial lack of espionage experience among his team, Donovan delivered impressive results with the OSS  that significantly aided the Allies’ efforts in the duration of the war. The OSS was particularly helpful in gathering intelligence in preparation for the Allied invasion of southern Europe, an effort that was crucial in reducing the casualty rate among Allied troops.
For his work, Donovan received awards including the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1945. After the war Donovan secured an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Thailand. He was married with Ruth Rumsey Donovan and his daughter, Patricia Hazard Donovan,
died in a car accident thirty-five miles south of Fredericksburg. Her age was 23, and Donovan never was the old one anymore. His son David Rumsey Donovan (Harvard ’38), of Berryville, Virginia, died 08-09-1999, age 84. A World War II naval hero, he commanded an advanced amphibious group in the invasion at Oran, helped in planning of the invasion of Sicily, and served on the Ancon, Admiral Hall’s flagship, during the landing on Omaha Beach.

Death and burial ground of Donovan, William Joseph “Wild Bill”.

 William_Donovan_Joynt Wild Bill died of a stroke, at the age of 76, on 08-02-1959, in the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. and is buried on Arlington Cemetery, Section 2. Close by in Section 2, the graves of General, Commander 92nd “ Negro Division”, Edward “Ned” Almond, Major General, Commander 8th Bomber Command Europe, Frederick Anderson, Rear Admiral, Commander Destroyer Greyson, Frederic Bell, Navy Admiral, “Operation Crossroads”, William Blandy, General, Commander 32nd Infantry Division, Clovis Byers, Navy Admiral. Battle of the Leyte Gulf, Robert Carney, Air Force General Lieutenant, Claire Chennault, Lieutenant General, Commander 4th Corps, Italy Campaign, Willis Crittenberger, Brigadier General, First African-American General, Benjamin Davis, Quartermaster Lieutenant General, John Lesesne De Witt, Brigadier General, Speck Easley, Marine Corps Major General, Commander 1st Raider Battalion, Merrit “Red Mike”Edson, Lieutenant General, VIII Army, Robert Eichelberger, Navy Admiral, Commander Nord Pacific Fleet, Frank  Fletscher and Navy Admiral, Commander VII Forces, William Fechteler, Admiral, U.S. Chief of Naval Material, John Gingrich and U.S. Brigadier General, “ Merrills Marauders “ in Burma, Frank Down Merrill, U.S. 4* Navy Vice Admiral, Commander U.S.S. Hornet, Doolittle Raid, Marc Mitscher.

 

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